Home to Roost
On September 11th, 2001, I drove home from work along the freeways of southern Michigan looking for things. Absurd as it now seems, I kept an eye on the ten and twenty-story glass buildings clustered in Southfield. I scanned that unforgettably blue sky for any rogue airliner that might be evading the FAA grounding order. I glanced at other drivers, hoping to exchange a mute but meaningful moment of shared disbelief. And as I looked at the horizon—west toward Ann Arbor where my wife and three-month-old daughter were waiting at home—I strained to see the dark plumes of destruction rising from our house.
Even when I approached the Ann Arbor exit and could see the gorgeous late summer day dozing undisturbed, a phantom headline played in my head where a generically smug NPR voice informed me that “B-1 bombers struck Ann Arbor today.” Years before I would hear the theories that the U.S. government had had a hand in the attacks of 9/11, I descended into the shady Huron River valley picturing billows of smoke and debris above my town, not caused by malignant terrorists but by the U.S. war machine.
It was a strange thought, but while I did not know what had prompted it—this vision of death from above wrought by “our own” planes—I felt there was a fateful truth to it. Manhattan lay smoldering at the hands, I had been told, of Saudi jihadists. Yet my fear was of the Pentagon, a place that had itself that morning been struck with terror. I do not lay claim to any great powers of foresight or penetration. It was not analysis that led me to my vision. But there was an accuracy in it that the years have borne out. Our military machine—rather, the military machine of the powers who rule this country—has turned its sights on us. From Cleveland to Baltimore, Charlotte to El Cajon, the storm troopers who have replaced our civilian police departments are dressed and armed with military surplus, usually courtesy of the Obama administration’s oversight of the 1033 program that, since 1997, has transferred over $5 billion in military equipment to municipal police departments. The transfer of this equipment is not simply a redistribution of surplus stock. It is part of a larger program of establishing a de facto domestic military across the country.
The plutocrats know what is coming. It is no accident that we are first encountering our new militarized police in the context of protests over police killings. The impunity with which officers are assured they may murder citizens—significantly, working class and poor citizens, white, Hispanic and Native American as well as black—this impunity is a tacit message that citizens are an enemy population, a colonized population. Our country is occupied by an oligarchy of billionaires and their corporations who see us solely as sources of cheap labor, mass consumption, tax revenue and potential rebellion. The police stand, not as the first, but as almost the last line of defense of this oligarchic power, the first lines consisting of our own tenuous hold on our jobs and standard of living and of the media-propaganda machine that works twenty-four hours a day to keep us distracted, defeated and afraid. That the police have been killing as freely and as frequently as they have is an indication of just how frayed the system of control has become.
The media is more distrusted than at any time in its history, with only 40% of Americans claiming to have substantial faith in the mainstream media’s honest and thorough reporting of events, according to a 2015 Gallup poll. At the same time, the official political system has literally become a joke, the duopoly of the Democratic and Republican parties offering the public the two most despised candidates in the country’s history. A decades-long stagnation of real wages, combined with demands of higher productivity and the cancerous growth of part-time and contract labor arrangements, has introduced most Americans to the reality of our race to the bottom with the cheap labor of the rest of the globe.
This recognition of our shared plight with workers internationally is crucial, both to defining the dilemma we find ourselves in and to our way out of this dilemma. Despite the efforts of Black Lives Matter and the mainstream media—and much of the so-called alternative media such as the radio and television program Democracy Now—Americans are recognizing the class character of the frequent police killings and the repression of the protests that result from these killings. The strategy of the ruling class is, as it has always been, to divide Americans along racial lines and to make this division appear to be natural and intractable. But Americans see that the murdering cops have often been black, as have been police chiefs and mayors in cities like Baltimore where these murders have taken place. Americans also see the diversity in the protesters to these killings. It is no wonder that the media wholly ignores the police murder of unarmed whites as well as the fact that twice as many whites are killed by police as blacks. Every effort is made to maintain the narrative that racism is at the heart of the police killings and at the heart of all America’s ills. This narrative is a lie.
The heart of our problem is capitalism and the tiny club of plutocrats who now control the country and the globe. As more Americans come to their variously clear recognition of this fact, the screws tighten upon us. Political authoritarianism increases, we learn that the NSA watches our every electronic move, our police come to resemble special forces soldiers in Afghanistan. No B-1 bomber has dropped bombs on Ann Arbor, but American bodies have bled in American streets. As our empire falters economically, our imperial chickens are coming home to roost. A public already growing restive, the rulers know, will explode with anger and resistance when introduced to the new wars being prepared for us. The flashpoints are multiplying—Syria, Ukraine, the India-Pakistan border, the South China Sea—as Washington (increasingly divided between the White House and the Pentagon, another sign of an empire in crisis) sets its desperate sights on war with Russia and China. In spite of intense media propaganda to vilify these nations, the American people will not support such wars, and the rulers know it. The danger of a third world war is greater now than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, all the more so given Washington’s apparent determination to bring such a war about, and Americans want no part of it. That is why the New York Times and the rest of the propaganda apparatus, at the same time as they make unsubstantiated accusations of Russia’s attacking civilian aid convoys, bury all signs of U.S. aggression and preparation for war. World War III, an almost unimaginable nuclear holocaust, promises to take place not only between nations but between classes. Not only across Asia or the Middle East, but in the streets of the United States.
That is why our hope lies in our recognition of the ordinary people of the globe as our brothers and sisters, held down by a common thumb. If catastrophic war is to be prevented, it will only be prevented by those who have an interest in peace, the international family of ordinary people. But we must come to the realization of just how close we are to war. We must educate each other, even talk to strangers, in order to get the word out. And then we must use the tools at our disposal—our formidable tools of communication—to reach around the world and discuss the next step. Whatever that step will be, it will be the result of human ingenuity and human courage, and it will be taken in the direction of wresting the world out of the hands of our blind and venal rulers. It will be a step taken in the direction of peace.
Sources: wikipedia.com. “1033 Program”
Photo source: occupy.com